The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says it will use its 14th national congress to be held in Johannesburg later this month to reflect on the state of the alliance with the African National Congress. During a press conference to release documents for the upcoming congress where more than 2,000 delegates are expected to attend, the federation said that the national democratic revolution will be in question.
“We believe it has entered its most dangerous and difficult period since 1994 and what direction it takes, will determine its fate. The epicentre of this major challenge is within the ANC, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the situation is very grave, and that the outcomes of the 2024 national and provincial elections are far from being certain.”
Without preempting the outcome of the congress, the general secretary of Cosatu, Bheki Ntshalintshali says the congress is actually the right platform for the issue to be well ventilated. As was the case with previous congresses, he said the political report at the congress will expand on the state of the alliance, its successes and challenges, where it should be strengthened or whether the ruling party and the labour federation should be parting ways.
In its previous congress, the federation took a resolution for the “reconfiguration of the alliance to ensure its effectiveness and effective defence against pushback by the enemy forces of the revolution.” The trade union federation also called for both Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) to “engage the ANC on establishing a minimum quota of SACP and Cosatu cadres in its leadership structures at all levels”.
Ntshalintshali says the central executive committee alone cannot make a full analysis of the status of the alliance. He was quick to point out that not everything was bad within the alliance and that there have been some notable successes, which are noted in the discussion documents for the congress. “It’s a mixed bag and a very complicated issue but the workers at the congress will have the final say.”
First deputy president of Cosatu, Mike Shingange agrees and says some of these successes include initiating an economic recovery plan, a social compact which will salvage Eskom and see its debt reduced, the emergency measures put in place during the height of Covid to ensure workers were able to get paid, and the introduction of a national minimum wage. He says although the implementation of these initiatives has been slow or non-existent, they have noted impediments within the state. “A lot of time we get out of the policy conference of the ANC smiling with one agreement but when policies get to government, they are being ridiculed and not seeing the light of day. Hence on the 24th of August we marched to the Union Building, not Luthuli House.”
There is no guarantee, Shingange says, that getting out of the alliance will solve the current challenges facing the country.
The four-day congress starting on the 26th of September will be held under the theme, Build working-class unity for economic liberation towards socialism. This comes at a time when some Cosatu affiliates in the public sector are considering an offer of a 3% salary increase that other unions not affiliated to the federation have rejected outright. Ntshalintshali says that while any increase which is below the inflation rate is not enough, they are waiting for a report from their members sitting on the bargaining council. “It’s a domain of those who are negotiating to assess if that’s reasonable but from the ordinary perspective, a wage increase that is below the inflation rate will never be okay.”
Simon Hlungwani, president of Denosa (Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa) and also the convener for the joint mandatory committee for Cosatu, says they have until the 20th of this month to consult their members on the current public sector wage offer of 3% plus a R1,000 cash gratuity. If the majority of their members reject the offer, teachers may be filing to strike. “First we will go to the CCMA, if our members still don’t agree, we will strike,” he says.